Being charismatic…

When you’re not charismatic


Published on: July 2023

Written by: Laura Fay

For all leaders, there’s a lot of talk about executive presence.

Whether you love or hate the term, it represents an important quality for leaders – the ability to show up in a way that engages others, aligns and motivates them, and that ultimately can rally them to get things done. When working with leaders who are self-identified introverts, they often prickle at the assumption that they need to consciously “extrovert” themselves to demonstrate executive presence. Or be gregarious. Or just “get over” their introversion and become more outgoing.

Recently, a senior technology leader at a large insurance company taking on broader responsibility across his organization reached out. He knew that he wanted to step up his presence and visibility in order to mobilize and inspire the team. He struggled with the idea that he’d have to make a dramatic change from his more analytical, quiet, and introverted approach to better connect with people. “I’m just not an exuberant person,” he said. “Being overly energetic and bubbly doesn’t feel genuine to me. I don’t have it in me to be effusive or over-the-top. I just don’t have charisma.”

He’s not alone in that sentiment: many introvert-identifying leaders feel the same way. However, there is another approach. Leaders CAN demonstrate charisma without having to compromise on personal style or authenticity. Step one is aligning on how we define charisma. In this instance, let’s use the traditional Merriam-Webster version: an individual that possesses “a special magnetic charm or appeal.” Something that draws you to another person.

With that in mind, here are seven actions you can take to heighten your “charisma” without feeling like you’re having an out-of-body experience:

  1. Make eye contact: This is the simplest way to clearly demonstrate that you’re paying attention and interested in what the other person is saying. A good rule of thumb is to maintain eye contact 50 percent of the time when speaking and 70 percent when listening. If that feels uncomfortable, try looking away for four to five seconds at a time and then refocusing.
  2. Smile more: There’s a great TED talk about the power of smiling. Here’s what you need to know: One smile can generate the same level of brain stimulation as 2,000 bars of chocolate. It reduces stress-inducing (cortisone) and increases mood-enhancing (endorphins) hormones. Also, try not to automatically smile back when someone smiles at you.
  3. Consider body language: More specifically, tilt forward slightly when in conversation, and keep your arms uncrossed. Use hand gestures to emphasize points. You don’t want to cross into someone’s personal space, but you can send a message that invites the other person to lean in – literally and figuratively.
  4. Talk about yourself: Talking about things that are important to us is scientifically proven to spark more neural activity in our brains. In other words, self-disclosure, or sharing something you’re passionate about, can create a sense of energy and excitement that can be contagious. In addition, any level of vulnerability in turn gives your audience permission to reciprocate, and they may be more likely to share with you.
  5. Talk about them: See point #3. Talking about yourself creates connection, which is true for the person you’re talking to as well. Ask them questions about their passions and interests, then listen. Really listen — without interrupting, checking your phone, or bringing the conversation back to you.
  6. Share stories: Imagine someone who is extremely charismatic. It’s likely you aren’t conjuring up someone who regularly spouts data and facts. A better way to emotionally connect with your audience is to use stories and analogies to make your point. It’s about sharing experiences that have shaped who you are and how you think. And stories are 22 times memorable than facts alone.
  7. Use real talk: The fastest way to lose someone in a conversation is by using technical jargon or formal, scripted language. Aim to be both conversational AND credible. Try slowing down your pace to be more intentional with your word choice. If you’re using words like “synergy” and “circle back” – you’re doing it wrong.
Bottom line – developing your executive presence and a sense of charisma doesn’t mean having to become someone you’re not, and it doesn’t require a dramatic change. Very small shifts in how you pay attention, convey information, and use body language can have a meaningful effect on how you connect with your audience.

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